MoKS, Estonia

This page is reserved for field recordings taken during my residency at MoKS in the village of Mooste in Estonia, 2013. The residency was invaluable for providing time and space in which to listen to unfamiliar regional sounds and work on my own projects without interruption.

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MoKS Residence. Photo courtesy of MoKS website.

The village of Mooste is quite fascinating and unlike anything most people from Western countries may have experienced before. Traditional Estonian housing sits adjacent to buildings and structures from the periods of Soviet and German occupation, all of which is surrounded by farmland, forests and lakes.

If you are interested in reading more about the MoKS residency program please visit their website by following this link.

Otherwise, a feel of the Mooste region can be experienced by listening to the sound files below.

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Regular visitors to this site may have listened to a recording I made of an electric fence a few months ago. The sound of the electrical pulse snapping through the contact microphones is quite dramatic. I had been tempted to record the electric fences here in Estonia too, but being unaware of their voltage I was hesitant to do so. However with only a few days left in Estonia I finally dared myself to connect my microphones to them.

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Near the MoKS residence is an electric fence stretching over bare hills into the distance. Perfect! After recording various sections along the fence I found that its tone changes depending on the direction that the wind strikes the cables and, perhaps, its distance from the power source. This is the first of four recordings I made. There is almost a delay effect reverberating through the cable as it sways in the wind.

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This second recording was made a few hundred metres further along the fence. A harsher, more distinct, generator sound replaces that of the first recording. It builds and fades yet the electrical pulse remains the same.

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On a windier section of the hillside the sound in this recording is higher in pitch. I’m not sure if this change is a reaction to the wind or if the cable itself may be different from other sections of the fence-line. There is a nice vibration that ascends and descends in pitch that is quite musical.

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This final recording was made as the wind was become slightly stronger. The low rumble reminds of reverb on an electric guitar. At times the wind can be heard above it granting the recording an idea of space and location.

Walking around the countryside it is amazing to think that these natural spaces have sounds such as these that we are oblivious to without the aid of contact microphones. These seemingly tranquil areas are filled with sound and it is discoveries like these today that maintain my interest in field recording, walking, travel and sound.

Snow on Wire:
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This telecommunication tower is my favourite object to record in the village of Mooste. I arrived in Estonia with the idea that I’d record the subtle sounds of snow and ice but instead the drones and crackles of the tower’s support cables have caught my attention. When I first recorded the cables last week I planned to return to the tower during a snowy afternoon. I was interested in what effect the tiny flakes would have on these massive support structures..

In this recording you can hear short staccato-esque sounds, almost electrical in tone, as hundreds of snow-flakes hit the wire. There are occasional pops when the snow hits the contact microphones. It was easy to forget the cold while listening to this sound playing through the headphones.
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Once the snow had eased I returned to get a clearer recording. This time I struck one of the cables lightly with a stick, this being the same action Ben Burtt used to create the laser blasts in Star Wars. Unfortunately there was still a bit of snow and wind so I will have to go back again to get a recording that I’m entirely satisfied with.

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As my feet moved on the ground near the connecting wires a much deeper frequency moved through the cables. Headphones might be needed to hear this recording.

The residency here at MoKS has provided some unexpected outcomes. With less than 2 weeks before I leave I hope to add a lot more of these listening moments during what is left of my time here.

KGB Museum. Tartu, Estonia:
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Looking at this inconspicuous building in Tartu, Estonia, it is difficult to believe that it was once a site of terror and oppression. From 1940-1954 thousands of Estonians were detained and tortured by the Russian KGB in tiny cells in the basement of “the Grey House”.
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Upon entering the basement this 3 minute audio file is played on a loop. Fluency in the local language isn’t necessary to understand the story that is enacted:

During the period of Russian annexation thousands of Estonians passed through the Grey House on the way to labour camps in Siberia in an attempt by Russia to quash the Estonian resistance movement. This resulted in the deaths of 30,000 civilians either directly through execution or from the deprivations of life in a gulag.

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Walking through the basement visitors can see plans by Russian authorities to deport Estonian politicians, teachers, clergy and skilled workers to Siberia. Artefacts from gulags, as well as a number of devices used to torture prisoners, can also be viewed.

Estonian history is not something that I am familiar with. However after visiting the Tartu KGB museum I now look into the faces of the local people and wonder what stories reside behind their stoic expressions.

One Tree in a Forest:
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It was a strange experience to walk through a pine forest and hear no sign of life. Up above wind whipped through the tree tops resulting in a whistling sound that belonged to a gothic novel but otherwise the forest was silent.

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Traipsing further into the centre of the forest a sound finally made itself heard. A pine tree, snapped at its base, had fallen against a neighbouring tree and was swaying with its movements in the wind.

By placing contact microphones directly near the split it was possible to hear every creak and groan emitted by the tree as it moved helplessly with the wind. Away from the context of the forest the sound is reminiscent of a wooden ship as it heaves and sways in the ocean.
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In a much more subtle way the sound of snow falling on the tree trunk was as delicate as it was musical. It’s various notes ring with the timbre of a xylophone, there is a beauty in its unpredictable melody.

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The residency here at MoKS has been invaluable for providing a new context in which to listen. It took a lot of preparation to travel from Australia but the benefits are numerous. I’d recommend artists of any medium to come here to immerse themselves in this unique part of the world.

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The sound of wind passing over this abandoned Soviet era water tank as caught by contact microphones. At times leaves and other debris clatter their way inside.

There is an incredible array of abandoned buildings and machines in Mooste. Their rusting bodies speak of another period that, for many Estonians, is best left in the past. Once the Soviet era finished in the 1990s many industrial structures were left to decay in the harsh Estonian elements. One such example is this water tower:

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The dark silhouette of the tower dominates the frozen landscape.

The water tower stands surrounded by frozen farming fields and sheds in a state of disrepair. From the vantage point of someone who didn’t live through the deprivations of Soviet annexation I can look at this tower through the privilege of a detached aesthetic sense. Nevertheless I can’t help but wonder how local residents view this same object.

Abandoned Soviet Water Tower: Mooste, Estonia.
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Recording the tank in the snowy blustery weather.

Socio-historical ruminations aside, how could any field recordist not be tempted to record this Soviet relic’s voice? Taping contact microphones onto its wet rusting frame proved to be quite difficult but with some perseverance the sound of the freezing wind passing over the metal body floated to the surface.

There in the hostile conditions low tones rose to higher whistles, the sound drawing a connection between the past and present. What histories did the wind communicate through the microphones, can they ever be deciphered?

In the Pines: Field Recording in an Estonian Forest
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Each day in Mooste is begun with a walk along one of its quiet country roads or forest paths. This morning was quite windy and a bit difficult to record anything clearly so I was happy to simply meander past the village limits.

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This part of Mooste is reserved for farming with only remnants of forest dividing one farm from another. From the road the sound of the pine trees moving in the wind was clearly audible. The sound was enticing enough to have me scurry across the paddock and plunge into the patch of forest to record the wind:

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Shortly into recording the wind dropped and in its place icy pellets of snow began to drop onto the dead leaves of the forest floor. It was a nice experience to sit in a forest that was completely different from those in Australia while the snow continued to fall:

Before arriving in Europe I wondered if it would be challenging to hear the subtleties of its unfamiliar landscape. Although I haven’t heard a fraction of what would be known by the locals it is a pleasure to at least hear what lies at the surface. For now I’m enjoying the novelty of hearing snow, a very exotic sound indeed!

Contact microphones and a Telecommunications Tower:
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In the past few months I have really enjoyed recording the subtle vibrations of wire. Depending on the thickness and length of the wire, its tension and the movement of wind, there is an endless variety of unearthly sound to be heard with the aid of contact microphones.

In Australia I have seen a number of telecommunications towers with tension wires that have begged to be recorded. Unfortunately security fences surround each of them. This is not the case here in Estonia.

Just a ten minute walk from the MoKS residence is an elegant telecommunications tower that stretches into the sky without a security fence in sight. With contact microphones connected to the wires and headphones on I stood looking up at the tower and listened to the extreme low frequency of its vibration in the wind. It was an intense experience compounded by the unfamiliar Estonian terrain.

I hope to return there again in varying weather conditions to listen to the different tones and frequencies of the tower’s support cables. I had wondered if one month in Estonia might be too long but now I realise how short that time really is.

The frequencies are quite low and so are best listened to with headphones.

The Frozen Surface. Field recordings of ice:
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Waking early this morning the village of Mooste was presented with a layer of snow. As an Australian living in a sub-tropical climate hearing the stillness that accompanies a frozen winter landscape is always a moment to be treasured.

One of my aims in taking up the residency at MoKS is to record sounds that don’t exist in my own region. A priority on this list is the snapping and popping of ice as it cracks and reforms over the surface of lakes and rivers.

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Although the lake neighbouring MoKS isn’t entirely frozen yet it was still possible to record the ice as it moved with the ripples of water caused by gusts of wind. The ice near the shoreline was too solid to lower the hydrophones so instead I cast them out onto the surface where they acted as contact microphones.

As a result the recording isn’t as clean as I’d like it, at times picking up wind and snowflakes as they hit the exposed hydrophones. It was still a good experience and with four weeks here I’m sure the time will come to try again.

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MoKS Residence, Estonia. Day One:
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A view across a a frozen pond to the Moks residence.

After 12 months of anticipation the residency at MoKS has finally begun. MoKS is located in a tiny village in southern Estonia. Its winter landscape and local architecture is far removed from anything I have seen elsewhere in Europe or Australia. Centuries old stone buildings sit side-by-side with abandoned Soviet factories the combination of which is so beyond my experience that it is hard to believe it is real.

The MoKS residency program was opened in 2001 with an aim to explore the fields of the arts and environmental research in post-soviet Estonia. It is also dedicated to providing educational workshops for artists and the local youth. While I’m here I will be hosting a lecture on the Australian soundscape as well as working on a number of sound-based projects to be released in 2014.

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On a walk through part of the village this afternoon the only sign of life was the rustle of tall grass in the wind and a radio interview blasting from a distant work-space. Somehow the sounds reinforced the desolation of the scene that lay before me. I’m looking forward to more of these experiences.

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